Nothing excites me more on a TV show than a great pairing. I love to watch two talented actors play off each other, using good writing to their full advantage. Here are my favorite 2012 pairings and the scenes that show them off so well.
3. The Hour: Belle and Freddie
Belle: And we’d be happy? Freddie: Ecstatic. We wouldn’t want to be anywhere else…with anyone else.
It was this pairing that held my attention in the beginning episodes of The Hour. The plot is complex and twisty and to be honest I had a hard time following along at first. Belle (Romola Garai) and Freddie’s (Ben Whishaw) chemistry is clear from their first scene. They are best friends who are in love with each other. How they met is never explained but it is obvious that their connection is deep.
Season 1 Episode 2
Freddie puts Belle to bed after a night of drinking following a disastrous news broadcast. The scene is short and simple but effective. Belle won’t let Freddie look at her as she cries about the failed evening. He obeys without question which is rare for him. When Freddie knows something is important to Belle his listens. As Freddie tugs at her shoes there is a familiarity between them, even without looking at each other. We haven’t known these characters long but as Freddie pulls Belle’s blankets up around her and tucks her hair behind her ear it is clear that they care deeply for each other.
Season 1 Episode 6
A lot happens in the last episode of The Hour. Freddie and Belle have just produced the most controversial news broadcast in history and Freddie learns he was being groomed to be a soviet spy. In the final scene, he is looking for reassurance from Belle that he is a good person. She can’t give him exactly what he wants but she admits that she trusts him more than she trusts anybody which is a big reveal for her. He tells her that’s not good enough. That she’s “missed the mark again.” “I hate you,” Belle replies in a burst. Of course what she really means is she loves him. In less skilled hands it would come off as cliché but Romola Garai makes the moment honest and believable. When she says ”I hate you,” again it is clear that it is the power of the emotion that is important, not the words. To say she loved Freddie in that moment would ruin their relationship. Freddie, of course understands this admitting, “I hate you, too.”
2. Treme: LaDonna and Albert
Albert: You’re all woman but you ain’t Indian
LaDonna: So if I want to know the secret handshake or something, there’s just no hope for me?
Albert: Baby, there’s always hope.
This pairing was a delightful surprise. This season marks the first time these two incredible actors have shared scenes together (from my recollection) and the results are electric.
Season 3 Episode 4: The Greatest Love
These two characters know how to get what they want and as they negotiate a deal for The Guardians of the Flame to practice at LaDonna’s (Khandi Alexander) bar it is a pleasure to watch their battle of wills. When Albert (Clarke Peters) demands that his friends at Pokes set up a barbecue truck outside the bar, LaDonna counters with, “Hell no. What burns is mine.“ Albert takes a beat to admire LaDonna’s potency before reminding her that he is the reason people are going to be packing her bar. It is part accusation part admiration when Ladonna concedes, stating, “So you don’t just mask Indian, you mask businessman too.” LaDonna allows Albert to luxuriate in the victory and the compliment for a moment before countering again, “You’re barbecue guy, he’s gonna kick 25% back to the bar.” With the negotiations finished they raise their glasses with respect. It has been too long since we have seen these characters with fire in their bellies and it is an extra treat to watch them admire this fire in each other.
Season 3 Episode 6: Careless Love
The first part of the scene begins with the sounds of Pokes BBQ sizzling as the pulse of the music gets louder inside Ladonna’s bar. There is more life in the place than we have seen since it was broken into. The Guardians of the Flame are putting on one heck of a show and there is dancing, laughter and energy bursting at the seams. As the camera finds LaDonna through a haze of smoke and musicians, she is enveloped in the beat, concentrating on Albert who is in his own musical trance. They share a moment of peace as their eyes meet briefly.
The second part of the scene takes place after the practise. LaDonna is counting her money and Albert is ensuring everybody has paid their tab. They are quiet and easy with each other and their admiration has clearly grown as they joke and flirt. The moment of peace they exchanged earlier is extended here. It is clear that this newfound friendship gives them a sense of comfort. It has been a long time since we’ve seen these characters comfortably sharing a conversation with anyone.
This pairing gives LaDonna back a relationship with her bar. It no longer feels like a foreign place and she looks at home in it again. Albert has been pushed around and disrespected since Katrina hit and this latest blow of cancer has rattled him. His friendship with Ladonna has given him back comfort in his own skin. In a season of Treme bleaker than its predecessors, this pairing brings two of the shows most downtrodden hope and peace. Beautiful!!!
1. Mad Men: Joan and Don
Don: Do you want to dance?
Joan: I don’t think we should.
My last and favorite pairing shouldn’t be a surprise. Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks) and Don Draper(John Hamm) have had many scenes together over the years but none as incredible to watch as in Season 5.
Season 5 Episode 11: The Other Woman:
The devious Pete Campbell tells Joan that to secure the Jaguar account, one of the Jaguar board members has requested to spend the night with her. She is led to believe that the partners at Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce don’t think the idea is half bad. When Don learns of this indecent proposal he rushes to Joan’s apartment to stop her from going through with it. Later in the episode it is revealed that he was too late. Joan had already done the deed. With this knowledge the scene that passes between them packs an even greater emotional wallop. Joan greets Don with distance. The mask of strength that she let slip away in Christmas Waltz, is back in place. To her surprise, Don reveals, “it’s not worth it. Who would want to be in business with people like that?” These are words I imagine Joan expected to hear from the other partners. As Don speaks Joan closes her eyes, exhaling deeply. She briefly dips into vulnerability. For a moment Don is her saviour once again. She asks, “you’re a good one, aren’t you?” As she answers her own question the weight of the other partners betrayal and perhaps what she has done cause Joan to harden again. There is something excruciating about Don asking, “so do you know what I’m saying?” She does but it is too late. I’m not suggesting she regrets what she’s done (although she might) but she now knows that Don does not approve. As she cups Don’s face in her hand to say goodbye she is both treasuring their relationship and fearing it will change.
Season 5 Episode 10 Christmas Waltz
Don and Joan are able to escape the turmoil of real life and cast themselves in different roles. After being served with divorce papers, Joan hurls a model airplane at her inept secretary. Don swoops in just at the right moment as Joan’s saviour, taking her away from the office, even offering her his coat. In this moment he is allowed to be chivalrous, a role Megan no longer allows him to play. As Don drapes his coat over the back of her shoulders, Joan allows herself to be vulnerable, a role she doesn’t allow herself to play. This gesture sets the tone for their afternoon of make-believe. Their first stop is the Jaguar dealership where an employee mistakes the couple for husband and wife. Playing along, Don insists that Joan, “really wants me to take her for a ride.” Don’s charm and Joan’s glamour convince the car salesman to let the pair take a test ride in “the most beautiful car ever made.” Their ride takes them day-drinking in a bar decked out in all the Christmas trimmings. Don plays his chivalrous part to perfection, allowing Joan to open up about the painful end of her marriage as she is lit by the sad glow of a Christmas tree. There are hints that Don wants to open up about his own marital problems but he knows that his role is to listen. His pain is eased by being Joan’s hero. Joan remembers, “It used to be if someone wanted to see me in reception it was to bring me flowers.” Don builds on this memory by adding, “Those flowers. My God. My first week here, I thought you were dating Ali Khan.” They communicate with an intimacy that we haven’t seen before. It is nice to be able to just sit with these characters for an extended scene of conversation.
As the drinks begin to flow the dynamic between Joan and Don becomes more charged. With Don’s hat cocked devilishly to the side his chivalry has transformed into effortless charm. Joan abandons her vulnerability for a more familiar flirtatious role. What follows is a Mad Men fans dream as these seduction experts practice on each other. Because they are playing roles, they are able to take more risks with their relationship, after all they are just pretending, right? When Joan calls Don, “irresistible,” there are many things at work. She is truly admiring a quality in Don that she has perfected in herself, she is accusing Don of trying to seduce her and she is letting herself off the hook if that were to happen. In fact both Joan and Don leave possibility dangling in the air. As the admiration and innuendos fly back and forth, the safety of playacting and the possibility of something more deliciously duke it out. Of course the scene wouldn’t be satisfying if anything physical were to happen between them. Their relationship is far more special than that. “ Don caps off the make believe date perfectly the next day by sending Joan flowers, from Ali Khan of course.